Joel Lane’s The Autumn Myth

© Image by Ella Lane

 
 
Joel Lane’s two previous collections of poems, The Edge of the Screen and Trouble in the Heartland, are both published by Arc. His other work includes two novels, From Blue to Black and The Blue Mask; a novella, The Witnesses are Gone; and three collections of short stories, The Earth Wire, The Lost District and The Terrible Changes.
 
He lives in Birmingham, where he works as a journalist and enjoys long walks, urban landscapes, cinemas and bookshops. His happiest hours have been spent offline.
 
 
 

 
 
The Autumn Myth is a reality check on the myths and dreams that permeate our world. It attacks the culture of political and corporate mendacity in modern Britain, and goes on to consider the more ambiguous myths that sustain our personal lives.
 
These poems explore the human experience of time, the lessons of grief and illness, the messages of the urban landscape and the evocative power of music. They look beyond a fractured society governed by lies towards a more creative use of imagination as a way of connecting. The title poem suggests that global warming has eradicated autumn. Lane’s third collection celebrates an October of the mind, a revolutionary glow.”
 
 
 
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Of Lane’s previous collection, Trouble in the Heartland, Sarah Crown wrote in the Guardian:
 
“Despite the bleakness and violence of the subject matter, these poems are precise, perceptive and, at times, beautiful. … he endows the city’s grit with grace.”
 
 
 
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The Refugee
 
 
The last thing you expected to find
in a carrier bag, on a skip:
a human skull. The police told you
it had been part of a teenage girl.
No trace of skin or hair, no DNA
to link it to a family, a name,
a face anyone could remember.
She had no story to be doubted,
no marks of possible self-harm.
 
The first thing you noticed, holding up
its yellow cheekbones to the rain,
was how it smiled. As if it knew
its passport could not be revoked.
It had found the way out of trouble:
dropped from the news into science,
taken its place among rocks and stars.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Colonial Dreams
 
 
You see them, from time to time, in hotels
or drinking clubs. Old, stiff-backed
their heads moving from side to side
as if scanning a distant horizon.
 
They were young in a world of borders
where drunken men muttered the facts
about life, explained what women were,
what dark rivers flowed under the skin.
 
They scanned the relief map of their needs:
this country was discipline, that was pain.
They walked through the fever-trees, alone,
to the sour cave by the river of plasma.
 
When the foreign upstarts took control
of the colonists’ birthright, they came home
to find the same heat disguised as winter –
the same mouths open, the same skin
 
needing punishment, the lessons to be taught
in prisons, detention centres, asylums.
Divide and rule. But the world healed up
behind your back, then came after you –
 
and so they end up like this, red-eyed,
backs to a wall where damp has grown
a strange forest, dividing the blank future
with alcohol and fear, colonising themselves.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Mescal Worm
 
 
Look carefully, and you’ll see me
curled up in the end of the bottle
like some piss artist’s hallucination.
 
I am a dragon in embryo,
and my raw flesh secretes dreams.
All flavour is a dilute poison.
 
I am the bitterness that starts fires,
shatters glass, turns over the tables,
fills casualty wards. I’m not buying.
 
My blood is the stain of a child
whose pieces were buried long ago
in the forest, and never dug up.
 
My flesh sets your teeth on edge,
colder than the ice in your drink.
I taste bad. But I won’t kill you.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Rituals
 
 
Not every night, or every weekend,
but now and then without warning
he twisted her arm behind her back
 
and beat her naked body with his belt
until her blood stained the duvet.
And afterwards, he held her still
 
and stroked her diminished face,
kissed the blue-black runes that stood
like Braille on her damp skin,
 
matched her breathing with his own
and quietened his own terror in her.
They had two children, both madness.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Some of These Days
 
 
She was the flavour of the decade,
the little redhead who acted out
Judy and Shirley with a shy grin
and the rhythm of a marching band:
 
hands rolling, throat full out,
giving it everything she’d got,
eyes bigger than her child’s belly
and swollen with reflected light.
 
The repeats kept her famous
while she pared herself down
in music college, then a clinic.
At the perfect age to launch
 
a glittering career, she starved
and no contracts could feed her.
The empty click of shutters
kept her awake every night.
 
Her last recorded performance
was nobody’s magic moment:
the bones showed in her arms
and her face was translucent,
 
her eyes vast with darkness.
The song was old, but not faked.
I’ve swallowed a camera. Now
it’s eating me from the inside.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Presumed Dead
 
 
If they come back – from the wastes of alcohol,
obscurity or madness – they come back alone.
Their scars masked by oddly placed silences
or facial hair. A blankness in their eyes
that their smiles never touch, from when
they hit the roadblock of middle age at ninety
miles an hour, like Kowalski in Vanishing Point.
Sometimes clutching an unpublished book, a personal
organiser, or (God help us all) a new faith.
 
You’re glad to see them, at first. They outlive
the comeback, start trying to settle scores;
turn up at Party meetings with documents
you need tunnel vision to read; lose the same
battles they lost the first time, but harder.
This time they’re in it for the duration: taut
and acrid, hand-rolled, always gleaming
with the failure that clings to them like gelatine
on the cheapest tinned meat, a version of spam.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Comeback
 
 
Not so much a talking cure
as a way to listen –
 
like rebreaking an arm
healed out of shape,
 
opening a skylight
in the roof of the sky.
 
Standing by the doorway,
hearing the raven
 
flap its wings outside,
the steady beat of darkness.
 
Knowing it has more
than one word to say.
 
 
 
 
from The Autumn Myth (Arc Publications, 2011).
 
Order The Autumn Myth.
 
Read reviews of The Autumn Myth here.
 
 
 
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